John Logie Baird ‘would have loved Doctor Who’

John Logie Baird with the apparatus that transmitted the world's first successful demonstrations of instantaneous, living, moving scenes. Picture: PA
John Logie Baird with the apparatus that transmitted the world's first successful demonstrations of instantaneous, living, moving scenes. Picture: PA
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John Logie Baird has been described as the man who “almost single-handedly invented the TV industry” ahead of the 125th anniversary of his birth.

The Scot was born 125 years ago tomorrow on 13 August 1888.

Baird, from Helensburgh in Argyll and Bute on the west coast of Scotland, was the first person to publicly demonstrate television on 26 January 1926.

The extent of Logie Baird’s accomplishments is vast. He also made the first transatlantic TV transmission, gave the first demonstration of colour TV and stereoscopic (3D) television and made the first video recordings.

He also developed high-definition and 3D television in colour and made significant progress with fibre-optics, infra-red scanning and fast facsimile transmission during the Second World War.

A number of historical TV items are on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where Alan Mills works as assistant curator for communications.

Mr Mills said: “[Logie Baird] did not have a lot of money. He would use anything he could get his hands on: parts of bikes, parts of cars; all sorts of things were used.

“He was an extraordinary man. There have been very few inventors like him. He could do so much with so little. He was up against companies that had thousands of employees often working on television, yet he always managed to stay ahead of them.

“He almost single-handedly invented the TV industry. He dragged everyone else behind him.”

His grandson Iain Logie Baird, born in Canada, now lives in the UK and is associate curator at the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

He explained that Logie Baird managed to stay at the forefront of innovation, leaving much larger companies in his wake.

He said: “The cost of developing electronic television was insurmountable by anyone except the wealthiest corporations. So for someone to do it first, they would have to be a major radio corporation or somebody who was very innovative with the mechanical techniques and that was my grandfather.

“I don’t think people really comprehend now how hard he had to work to get television on the map because people were believing in all types of trickery and they thought it was something like the perpetual motion machine.”

But the inventor persevered and two years before his death in 1946 devised a standard of HD TV of comparable picture quality to some HD TV sets available today.

While Logie Baird was less interested in the content of programmes shown on TV, his grandson believes he would have enjoyed the odd episode of Doctor Who.

“He was very interested in science fiction so I think he’d like Doctor Who, maybe not the new show as much as when it was like Sherlock Holmes with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.”

The inventor was motivated by the technical challenges of creating a better quality picture and developing a system that was universally used. He also strived for TV to earn a respected place in society.

His grandson said: “He’d be pleased that television was finally rivalling radio and cinema as a medium because that was what he always believed could happen, and I think nobody would argue it’s not reached that level or even surpassed that.”

He is also delighted that The Logie Baird pub in his grandfather’s home town of Helensburgh is housed in a former cinema: “The cinema is named after John Logie Baird – television has finally taken over the cinema.”